RAF Voyager begins F-35B refuelling certification

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21 MAY, 2016 BY: JAMES DREW WASHINGTON DC

The Royal Air Force’s Airbus A330 Voyager will become the fourth non-US aerial refuelling tanker to be certified to fill up the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II following recent tests with an F-35B at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

The Voyager, a modified A330-200 airliner designated KC-30, has already performed five of 20 planned test flights with the final one expected by mid-June to achieve F-35 tanking certification.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s own version of the Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), the KC-30A, completed its F-35A refuelling trials at Edwards AFB in California in late 2015.

An Italian Air Force KC-767A was the first tanker not owned and operated by the US military to receive F-35 certification. It went on to support the first transatlantic crossing of the Lightning II in February.

A Dutch KDC-10 completed its first F-35 refuelling on March 31 and is now helping early-model Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s fly home for a demonstration tour to drum up support, with 37 fighter jets on order.

With a maximum fuel capacity of 111t, the Voyager will be a critical asset for future RAF and Royal Navy short takeoff vertical landing F-35B operations from RAF Marham. Refuelling certification is also a necessary step on the path to the 617 Sqn declaring F-35 initial operational capability in 2018.

The UK has 19 personnel assigned to the Lightning II development team at NAS Patuxent River and most will participate in the third and final F-35B sea trial aboard a Marine Corps Wasp-class amphibious assault ship later this year, according to the F-35 Joint Programme Office. The UK will begin its own ship integration trials aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.

By 2020, 10 F-35Bs will be based at RAF Marham, 15 F-35As at RAAF Williamtown in Australia, 16 in Italy and 10 in the Netherlands, according to Lockheed charts. The UK’s nine Voyager aircraft are assigned to RAF Brize Norton.

@flightglobal.com

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See details of A330-200 (MRTT): HERE

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